Some people are never going to be convinced New Zealand farmers have a sound story to tell about environmental stewardship. Forget them.
That was one of the messages from ACT leader David Seymour as he and Federated Farmers President Andrew Hoggard delivered a thought-provoking and sometimes humorous guest speaker double-act at the Feds Manawatu-Rangitikei AGM last month.
Seymour spent some years living in Canada and agreed with the advice of its former Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “too many people are too busy trying to kiss and cuddle their enemies”.
The ACT leader had been asked by one of the 180 or so people in the audience how rural New Zealand could better reach out to townies.
Referring to earlier information in the meeting that our farmers lead the world in terms of one of the lowest emissions footprint per litre of milk and kilogram of meat, Seymour advised: “Be proud of who you are. Find who your allies are and communicate clear messages.”
He said he was a big fan of DairyNZ’s ‘The Difference is Clear’ campaign and suggested the more school students who actually get to visit a farm, the more wrong-headed misconceptions about modern agriculture would be confronted.
But you’re wasting your time with others, he said.
“If you’re thinking, if we just go to Russell Norman and Greepeace and explain it one more time, maybe they’ll finally get it. They won’t! They want to destroy you.
“They’re not there to solve the problem, they’re there to make a profit out of moaning about you.”
Given the looming massive shortage of protein in the face of a burgeoning world population, and Kiwi farmers’ low emissions credentials, “people who care about the environment should actually be saying ‘let’s farm in New Zealand as much as possible’,” Seymour said.
The ACT and farming leaders found common ground on climate change and forestry for carbon credits. Neither wanted to be telling land owners what they should be doing with their properties but both agreed government policy was tilting the playing field.
For Federated Farmers, the He Waka Eke Noa process needed to find a way to incentivise farmers to further lower greenhouse gas emissions but not by cutting production, Hoggard said. If our world-leading farmers produced less, less efficient producers overseas would pick up the gap. That sort of emissions leakage “does no favour to the planet”.
But having said that, the Feds President warned those farmers who railed against climate change that whether they believed it was happening or not, “there’s a whole bunch of consumers out there buying your product who do believe it’s real. There’s the old saying the customer is always right, even when they’re wrong.”
Hoggard said that Federated Farmers believes in an open, market-based economy where the right market signals are delivered, and businesses respond in ways that suit their own situations and ambitions. But in terms of foreign investment, the government had effectively closed off every option for them bar forestry. And for farmers carbon credits were only available for blocks of trees covering larger areas, not for planting out smaller areas of marginal land in gullies or riparian strips.
Seymour, who proudly boasted he was the only MP to oppose the Zero Carbon Act, said it was “nuts” that carbon credits under out ETS had to be New Zealand produced credits.
“That means if your competitors around the world are getting cheaper credits, you have to pay a higher price. The government is ensuring New Zealand has a different standard from the rest of the world and that’s what leads to leakage.
“By forcing people to buy NZ credits only, we’re saying we would rather put more pines trees in the Hawke’s Bay or Wairarapa than pay the Brazilians to re-seed the Amazon, or the Solomon Islands to stop cutting down their rain forest,” Seymour said.
“You should be able to buy credits at the same price as the rest of the world. The fact they have walled you off is 1980s Polish shipyard-type stuff.”
The ACT leader also said New Zealand producers and society in general needed to figure out where we stand going forward with China.
“Right now we’re facing something a little bit like the Soviet Union dictatorship with a capitalist economy – it’s the worst of all worlds.
“Of course, they’re desperate to feed their people because they’re only a famine away from revolution. If you’re President Xi, that basically means you’re going to be be-headed.
“So they’re pretty keen to keep the tap open and maintain a relationship with us.”
But they’re also “highly erratic” – just look at how Australian growers have been treated, he said. With our Kiwifruit at 25% exposure to China and our meat something like 70% “we’ve got to figure out what sovereign risk we’re prepared to take from the CCP because they are truly nasty, and I think they will get nastier and more desperate as they face more problems at home”.